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Ask HN: Where can I find good freelance opportunities?
65 points by alashley on May 19, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

So I'm a student who's graduating college in a month, and I'd like to freelance until I find a job. Ideally, I'd like to work with JavaScript and Node.js. I don't have a ton of experience with Node, but my degree was pretty hands-on and we learned several technologies that have given me translatable experience.

I have written code in C, C#, VB.NET, PHP, Python, Java (Android/Web), JavaScript, and Ruby. I am also familiar with Drupal, Oracle and MySQL. I am by no means an expert in all of these technologies, but I do believe that I can ramp up in a reasonable time frame in a given technology.

I've tried ODesk and Elance, but my experience so far has been that most of the jobs there favor freelancers with the most experience and the lowest bids.

So where can I find some decent opportunities that will help me to grow quickly? I'm open to any ideas! At this point its not even so much about the salary, but I just want to be able to put my coding skills to good (paid) use.



I started using freelancer.com. It's honestly a pretty bad site, unprofessional in a lot of ways, high fees, etc. I got low paying jobs that took a decent amount of work, although the quality of work expected wasn't too high. However, it allowed me to get some light experience to start which was useful, and as I finished projects and got all 5-star reviews (my point is not that I was super wonderful, but that if you do decent work and communicate well, clients will like you) I began to get more involved, higher paying jobs. It got to the point that I no longer had to actually use freelancer.com to find work - people I had worked for in the past or other connections I had made while working would contact me asking for things. This was great for a couple of reasons - no website fees, good long-term relations with trustworthy clients, no time spent hunting for jobs, etc.

In short, if you're willing to put up with the bad parts of freelancing websites, you can probably use it as a step towards much better work.

Same. Started on Elance and underbid to play the game and just get some gigs. Over-delivered on projects and got all 5's on reviews. Built a solid reputation and profile to the point where I get about 5 invites a week, most of which I turn down. Raised my rates three times in less than a year (have more than doubled) and am able to pick and choose what work I take on. It does suck at first, but carving out a niche can really help if your niche is an advanced method/tech/service. The high paying jobs are harder to find, but they do exist and are waiting for people who know their stuff. My largest client to date was found on Elance and I never would have known who it was from their posting.

Do you think the same route would work for people outside US?

I think it's definitely possible. I think more important than where you are from is your grasp of the (spoken) language your project is in and you are communicating with. So if you're communicating with clients in English, writing your code, documentation, and visible interface in English, it's obviously important that you have a very good understanding of English. And as long as you do, I don't think being foreign would be much of a hindrance.

You might want to check out ooomf (http://www.ooomf.com).

They curate a daily mailing list for freelance developers and designers. Jobs are screened and clients provide set spec/set-price they want it done at. For devs, Lots ofsolid projects listed at what amounts to 45-63$/hour.

How to get invite for oomf?

As stated: Portfolio, portfolio, portfolio. Make friends with a good designer, or make very good friend with Bootstrap.

If node.js is what you want to do, worm your way into the community and get yourself to the point where you're either a contributor or known to contributors that actually work in the corporate world. Those are valuable references, and with no work experience, your references could make or (more likely) break your chances.

I guess my only personal advice would be not to expect too much, and to be willing to at least consider The Dreaded Corporate World. You shouldn't expect freelance gigs when you're brand new and don't actually have the experience to earn a freelance gig, so if you get one, feel lucky and make it count! If not, understand that success usually takes time, and experience is time well spent, whether it's in your dream job or something less ideal.

If you want to freelance successfully you really need to learn basic prospecting, sales, and networking.

ODesk and Elance are bad mojo unless you're dying for some grist for that portfolio.

Speaking of which, establish a solid web presence that you control (not just github) and start building up a reputation for being good at something in particular.

Also you just listed off 8 programming languages, a CMS, and two different databases. I and anybody like me who could potentially be interested in hiring a freelancer would rather know what you're actually GOOD at. Don't do that resume stuffing garbage. Case in point, can you even use function pointers in C? No? Then drop it off the list.

Start building up a portfolio of Node.js projects, then you'll build the necessary expertise to work in the stuff you want to be doing. Do contract work in whatever you're actually good at until your Node skills catch up.

Thanks for the advice.

You're right, I'll be sure to narrow down my core capabilities so it doesn't look like I'm a jack of all trades.

Thanks again!

And I would say on top of this put down not only what you're good at but what you would prefer to work on, and what makes you happiest and excited. If you take a bunch of jobs that you don't like (which you may have to do at first) you will eventually get bored and loose your excitement.

I should add that here on the west coast of Canada (Victoria, BC), the startup/freelancing scene isn't that great especially at first glance, which is why I was looking for stuff elsewhere. Jobs here are mostly PHP, Java etc. But that's not tech I see myself working with long-term, so like you've said I'll focus on what gets me excited.


Regarding freelancer marketplaces if you think that those favor experienced/cheap freelancers you are a bit wrong, based on your skills I suggest you to brand yourself as a javascript/node expert, don't hesitate to ask more money than other people ( my bids was almost all the time the most expensive in the list ) and target clients that are looking for more than a very cheap freelancer , and there are some advantages to that strategy : - your high bid give you a boost of trust in the eyes of the client - your future client will respect you more ( it's psychology , if you pay more for a thing, you will valuate it more ) - you will want to work with people that have this mentality

To make sure that this will work for you, try to post some jobs in your field, study the competition and make sure that your bids ( proposals ) looks much better and you are really doing a good job compared with them .

If you have more questions, you can reach me at : ionut.neagu[[at]]vertistudio.com

I've found many high quality clients through TopTal. Please use my referral link: http://www.toptal.com/?ref=35

Quick facts about us: everyone is really cool. You get to work with top notch clients. All the developers who work with us are seriously talented: we make sure, since you will need to take a short coding test and show us some of your code before we let you in.

I highly recommend it.

By the way, it's not like oDesk where there is bidding. Bidding is not part of the process. You can set a weekly fixed rate for full or part, or just set your hourly. No haggling involved. Clients know they are getting a developer of a certain quality when they choose us, and they know what that costs.

I checked out your link but read something disturbing there: "...during non-work hours, they are expected to respond within 3 hours." This, I think, goes totally against my reason to seek freelance work - work on my own time. I'm sorry but Toptal just looks like another company.

You've read the page for prospective clients. We give clients the option to have a developer with that level of responsiveness.

Client and developer arrangements are mutual, and not all clients require developers to respond within 3 hours on their day off. But, if your client does, you need to do it. Moreover, it is just important that you keep your word. If you tell your client you are going away Saturday and won't be able to answer emails, and you cleared this with them up front, there's not going to be any problem. But, if you told your client "Oh hey, don't worry: i'll keep the server running." and then you took off on a vacation without your smartphone and laptop, then that's a problem.

Many clients have had bad experiences with unresponsive developers. At TopTal, we strive to guarantee that they will receive the level of responsiveness desired.

Yup, it mostly boils down to what you seek for. If you seek a complete freedom in your working hours, it might not be a fit for you, but if you seek a steady flow of work, being a member of client's team, with some regular communication involved - Toptal is an organized place to pick up some work without the bidding games happening in elance & odesk.

I'm also a member of the netwokr, picking some work there, some through my own direct contacts. Generally, 'rules of the game' are always agreed with the client, when such rules aren't a fit for both sides, no need to engage in such work, as you wouldn't in the case where you find your own clients. Some are more, some other are less flexible, just like in every other place.

Thank you, I'll check this out.

I am also getting started with this process and these are things that have helped me:

It seems like you are very aware of what you are capable of. It's great to be realistic, but also realize that you are now in the professional market like everyone else. Like the other posts say here, NETWORK. Go to local meetups and present yourself as a real professional. Create business cards (BONUS: Make yours stand out from the rest). You will receive many business cards by going to these meetups. You can probably gauge what would make yours flashier.

Update your LinkedIn, Twitter, HackerNews, Blog, etc immediately with solid and presentable information. If you're unsure of how to do this professionally, check out other professionals' pages and emulate success.

Now, BUILD THAT PORTFOLIO. Even one side project is generally enough to show someone that you can do the work. Do you want to show off your skills, but you're not sure what to build? Take a popular site and build a small client for it.

This is one of the most exciting things you will ever go through. We hear about people building businesses all of the time, and it seems amazing. There is so much more passion - in my experience - when you are building yourself. Congratulations on taking this huge step!

Please feel free to contact me if you have any basic questions about the whole freelancing process. I'm happy to help in any way! (Email in profile)

This is yet another great piece of advice. The community here is great!

In line with what you are saying, I have been attending the local Drupal user's group for the past few months and I plan on presenting my capstone project at our next meetup. I will get a business card and present myself in a more professional manner.

It is an exciting time for me, I am building my career and in the process learning a lot more about myself personally and professionally. I'll keep your email address handy.

can you expand on what you mean by "take a popular site and build a small client for it"? Do you mean just use their API to build a quick demo site or something else? My portfolio is a bit weak and I was looking for good portfolio projects to showcase my talents.

Basically yes. Provide something that might be attractive, such as extra or alternative features that you think users would enjoy. Some sites that have great APIs are Flickr, Reddit, and Hacker News (although, I cannot personally recommend HN as I have not dabbled with its API myself - many others have suggested it).

Hey there, I'm launching a new online workplace at the moment - https://www.cresters.com. It's in an early beta stage but I think that the focus of the site will cater to your needs. The way the reputation system works is that everyone starts from zero and builds up proficiency scores for each of their skills (e.g Node.js, Python but also Translation, Proofreading, Graphic Design, etc) based on the feedback they get for their work on relevant gigs. The site then proposes users to gig posters based on their proficiency levels and the poster's budget. You can start work on low-paying gigs working for entrepreneurs or individuals and work your way up to better-paying gigs for larger clients. If you get average/poor ratings in the beginning (along with constructive feedback) but keep improving and get better ratings gradually, the more recent ratings will carry more weight in your proficiency scores so you won't be penalized for using your first low-paying gigs to try your hand at new technologies. I'm talking to the first clients at the moment but I am hoping to ramp up pretty fast. It would be great to get your feedback if you have time to check it out!

Start a blog and portfolio where you can post about projects that you are proud of, and that show off that you can work with certain technologies. That goes a long way towards getting work, as it demonstrates that you know what you're doing.

To meet people, go to developer meetups in your area for the technology that you would most like to work with. Tell them you are looking to do some freelancing - I've seen many people start partnerships and projects that way.

Find someone that's successful in your community business wise and befriend them. Find someone that used to do what you do and now does more upper management type deals that has connections and then they will start referring you to people if you're good. Find a good designer to partner with that needs a good back-end person. I started this way and just last week closed my biggest client ever because of a referral for aforementioned mentor friend I made. Might not work for everyone, but connections and referrals are what worked best for me.

And it goes without saying, do great work. Not just good enough work, do great work. Work that people will be impressed with and you'll grow even faster. Don't take on too much to where your work quality dips down to just enough to get by. If you suddenly have an overflow of clients, charge more.

Edit: Also put your name/email in your profile. I just tried to find it and I was going to email you for some projects I have going on. Also, post on HN when the freelancer post every month comes up.

I'm curious about how you would go about "charg[ing] more."

Do you contact current clients and explain why you are raising prices and charge them your increased price on the next job? Do you just state it and not explain?

It's not that for all your current clients you charge more, just when you start feeling overwhelmed and you're getting requests for more work is when you say ok my rate is going up x amount. That way you keep quality clients high, less stress, and more money.

I will, feel free to take a look in a second.

Noted. Thank you!

Thoughts in no particular order:

1. Network locally.

Tech meetups in your area will help you meet local people who speak tech, and you can let them know what you're capable of.

Business-oriented meetups - find local chamber of commerce events (or similar) and let people know what you're capable of from a business/value standpoint.

Industry-oriented conferences - if you have a passion/interest in a specific industry, consider attending their events (education, ecommerce, finance, govt, retail, manufacturing, etc).

2. Look at focusing on a niche or two - service or tech (or both). More people (and higher-value people in most cases) will find you if you're "the text search guy" or "the php guy" or "the database guy" or "the css guy" vs "a web developer". This is from a tech standpoint, of course. But you may end up being "the wordpress guy" in your town (or the drupal guy, or the magento guy, or the sharepoint guy).

Whether you take that work or not is almost immaterial - it's about people seeking out a solution and finding you vs someone else. Tech people don't go searching for "a web developer" - they look for someone to meet a tech need they have - someone found my site the other day looking for "php postgres raleigh resume", then came to the local PHP meetup that I run (nominally - I share mgt with others now). They didn't search for "web developer".

3. From a marketing standpoint, you don't really have to focus on just one niche, but you need to be able to be associated with those niches, and you can possibly successfully serve multiple niches (some of this is just what you're comfortable with).

Have multiple 'landing pages' on your site (you do have a site for yourself or your business, right?) that are focused on the different niches/industries you want to serve. A drupal-focused page describing all your drupal work will be what people visit when they search for "drupal expert freelance <your town>", for example.

4. Get involved in a local tech meetup - don't just attend; present. Present at multiple groups - find multiple tech groups, whether you do that tech or not. I do not do much .net, but I go to the .net group in the area. I'm likely the only real PHP person some of these people know. When they get PHP requests, they fwd to me. I pass around my .net referrals to them when I get them.

5. Get involved in a local business group or two - chamber of commerce or something else - offer to do presentations on the basics of using the web for their business goals (setting up a blog, CRM overviews, whatever you think you want to focus on).

6. Contact larger local dev shops and ask for any overflow work they may have.

7. Blogging/podcasting can help establish your reputation and reach a wider audience, but it generally takes a lot of time to establish credibility that way (my own experience, anyway). Meeting people face to face is a harder thing for many people to do, but you can react much more quickly to what they're saying, picking up on body language, etc.

8. Establish a mailing list on your site and ask people to sign up when they visit. Send out regular monthly mailings.

9. Focus on local/regional markets first, unless you're very focused on a particular industry and willing to travel - for higher value gigs, people generally want you on site at least some of the time. I know there's counter examples to this, but it's been my experience, and the experience of many independents that I know.

10. Ack - one more addition here - yes, you'd like to work with node/js right now - that will probably change. Don't get too hung up on the tech, really. You're working for yourself, and your priority really is solving the client's needs. You can often do that very well by being a master at certain tech, but don't let that dominate your view of things. If you really want to just be a node master, go find a job where people will give you node work.

11. Ack 2 - another point - from your local networking, build up a network of people you can bring in on projects as needed - even if you can do it all yourself, it's good to have people you can call/meet for an extra pair of hands (and likewise, you do that for them when called on). Being able to confidently say to a client "I've got experts to fill in the gaps on things I'm not strong in (or when the time deadlines are pressing)" will give you access to larger projects.

Subtle plug #1 Come to indieconf this fall - http://indieconf.com - signup at the top for announcements - we're happening this fall. (my conference)

Subtle plug #2 Consider signing up for matchist.com - they'll try to introduce you to vetted projects that match your skills, but leave the rest up to you. (not my service, but I'm a member, and I interviewed the core team on my podcast - http://webdevradio.com)

Thanks for your well-thought out advice. I'll put your points into action along with the other stuff I've received here. Concerning matchist, I'm out of luck as they only cater to developers in the US, and I'm in Canada (Victoria, BC).

Ah - yeah, that's right - sorry about that. Might want to sign up for a mailing list anyway - you never know when they might expand.

The most important thing to learn/know is the mindset of the buyer. Applies to pretty much any industry, but for freelance development it's even more important.

Business owners, project managers and the like hire experts who fit their needs and here's the part to take note of "solve their problems."

Their problem might include some Ruby, PHP, C# or whatever language work, but that's not what they are interested in. They want to know you can get the job done and solve their problem in a reasonable amount of time, within budget and without causing them extra headaches.

I have never, ever sold anyone on 'php'. Always on their needs (solving a problem).

This isn't really answering your question, but what's your motivation for wanting to "freelance until [you] find a job"? Are you expecting it will take you time to find the job you really like, or are you just trying to get more experience before you look for a full-time job?

If you are a good programmer, the job market for full-timers has never been better -- especially if you are willing & able to move to the bay area (a big if, I realise).

Good catch, yes, I do anticipate that it will take me some time to find a job I'd like. Also I don't really just want to take on a job for the sake of having one, I want it to be a good fit on both sides.

I am willing but not able to move to the Bay area at this point. As I explained to another poster, I have no ties to Victoria besides an aging parent. And its important to me not to leave just yet, because its my mom and there's really no one else close to her.

I do realize that it would be the ideal place for me to be at this nascent stage of my career though.

If there is nothing holding you back, consider moving to tech hubs Bay area, NY/NJ etc. Preferably where you have friends or family where you can crash and tap into their networks. If you are interested in a long term career in tech, choosing the right city at the outset, can set you up for life. Good luck.

This is something I've thought of. I have an aging parent in Victoria (my mom) and I'm really the closest person to her at this point in her life, so it would be difficult for me to just up and leave this city. Apart from that I'd be all for working in a tech hub.

Thanks for the thought :)

Sorry to piggy back on this thread, but can anyone give me an estimate of how much a freelance gig can earn per project? Also, do you take on more than one project at a time, usually?

It totally depends on who you're serving and what their needs are, and what you want to do and how you market yourself. I've had $2k projects and I've had 6 figure projects. For better or worse, I still do not focus my image enough in one area, and I get a wide variety of things crossing my plate, and have a wide variety of project sizes/scopes. The $2k ones are not as common these days, but even when they were, they tended to be smaller projects, not huge projects that I was underbidding.

Thanks. I've never freelanced before, so I think I'll start off with $2k projects, so i can begin some kind of portfolio

Sure. Also, I felt a bit weird mentioning 6 figure projects - I say it not to brag so much as to give people some indication that you can do larger projects on your own (actually those tend to involve others for additional skills) - it's not all just basic wordpress installs.

It's not a problem. I was after as much detail as possible. Very helpful, in fact!

I'm looking to pay someone for some work in JS and RoR, messaging me is probably a good place to start...

Would you be able to shoot me an email, Dustin? My email is in my profile. I didn't see your email on your profile :)

Same here. We can discuss details over email. Mine is present in my profile.

I don't see your email address either. Hmm. Mine is andre.lashley@gmail.com, feel free to contact me if you see this reply.

There are diamonds in your own backyard. Dig 'em up.

are there a lot of opportunities in the node.js market as compared to say asp.net or php?

In reality, probably not. But I frequent hacker news and I may be a sucker for wanting to stay up to date with the latest and greatest.

One can never be too sure about tech, but if something like Node was to become even more popular in the next five years or so, I would prefer to have been working away at mastering it over those five years. This is just my two cents, and not having a lot of experience I could be wrong :)

If it's popular, even having 2 years of basic experience will be enough to keep you busy. PHP is the poster child for this - it's popular, and people with even small experience with it can earn a living. I really would caution against trying to be a freelancer who also is an expert-level guru in one tech.

what about ruby or django? How good are the opportunities? I'm an asp.net developer and I'm wanting to branch out a bit. Not sure which platform to start with. I tried PHP a bit but it seems very unorganized and incapable of doing large scale web applications.

Oh, I see. I'm in Canada so the market here is different, I'm assuming you're based in the U.S.?

In my experience and research, there are Python (Django) and Ruby (mostly Rails) jobs out there. The corporate world tends to favor PHP, .NET, and Java. While startups and freelance gigs will either let you choose the tech, or specify one of the popular scripting languages.

In the PHP ecosystem, there are Model View Controller (MVC) frameworks such as Laravel that have features that are on par with Rails and Django. Content management systems such as Drupal, Wordpress, and Joomla are also very popular. Generally, not many developers are still writing code in plain old PHP, they are using frameworks and CMS's to buld their solutions. So I'd advise you to look into one of those if PHP is what you want.

No, I'm actually in Victoria, BC :) where are you?

Same place :)

What! Are you in asp.net?

I have played with .NET on my own in the past, and I had a class on C# and VB.NET and also ASP.NET at Camosun. The C# and VB.NET class focused on desktop applications, we built a few games (card games, memory game) and the .NET class had us build a term project. My project communicated with Reddit via its API. So the short answer is...Tell me more about any opportunities you know of :)

sorry, not that I know of. Are you part of any local dev groups?

No worries :) Yes I am part of a Drupal meetup. There is also a Ruby on Rails meetup that might interest you. I was a part of it, but I don't want to put too much on my plate for the moment. You can find it on meetup.com

gangplankhq.com if they are in your area or find another cowork hacknight hangout.

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Are they not done with the site or is this some joke or satire that's going over my head?

They find you.

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